Explaining State Commitment to the International Criminal Court: Strong Enforcement Mechanisms as a Credible Threat
Washington University Global Studies Law Review, Vol. 10, p. 477 (2011)
57 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2011 Last revised: 18 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 12, 2011
This article examines the puzzle of state commitment to the International Criminal Court. It asks why some 100 states would join an international human rights treaty like the ICC treaty which has relatively strong enforcement mechanisms to punish bad and noncompliant behavior. After all, by joining the ICC, states agree that an independent prosecutor may try the state’s own nationals for mass atrocities should the ICC conclude the state is unwilling or unable to do so domestically. Thus, although states regularly join the many international human rights treaties that only require states to self-report compliance, I theorize that states will view the ICC’s enforcement mechanisms as a credible threat and will be more likely to commit only if calculations about the ability to comply with treaty terms show that commitment will not lead to a significant sovereignty loss. In this case, states should consider (1) the strength of the anticipated enforcement mechanism and (2) the state’s ability to comply with the terms of the ICC treaty. I test this argument empirically and find support for the credible threat theory. In contrast to prior studies empirically examining state commitment to international human rights treaties, I find that states with poorer human rights practices are less likely than states with good practices to commit to the ICC. I conclude that although this means that member states tend to have relatively good human rights practices, the ICC and its relatively strong enforcement mechanisms can still positively influence state behavior. Indeed, the ICC is uniquely situated to improve international cooperation on human rights matters since it has been designed so that commitment requires compliance. All states that have joined the court – including those with poor practices – will have to comply or face sovereignty losses.
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